Homework: Black Hawk County Jail

On Tuesday April 4th, 2017 our Journalism and law class took a trip to the Black Hawk County Jail and learned more about the every day life of an inmate as well as the sheriff Tony Thompson. Tony, the sheriff of Black Hawk County since 2009, has definitely seen a thing or two. Sharing stories with our class that some may seem to be horrifying – while he see’s it as his every day job.

In the actual jail itself, there are 240 or so inmates (every person we talked to said a different number). Among these inmates, about 1/3rd of them are locked up for a forced felony: fighting, rape, etc. Their average stay is about 90 days but because the judicial system is slowed down to prevent anyone from having to spend extra time in jail because of a mistrial, it can go from 4 to 5 months. Personally, I couldn’t imagine myself going to jail… and I don’t think I want to!

Speaking more on the personal, Sheriff Thompson stated his work down at the Capital to try and influence bills that would allow a “Stand Your Ground” style bill. Because of the Cedar Valley’s record of crime, the Sheriff does not believe that this would be a good idea. An example he kept going back to was what if two rival gang members started shooting at each other and one ended up dead. Under this law, the one who was still alive could say he was fearful for his life and had to shoot back. In all reality, he was the one to shoot first or other scenarios. Makes sense, but personally, I’d rather be able to protect myself lawfully than not be able to against criminals who do NOT follow the law.

One cool feature about Sheriff Thompson was his body camera. He started to wear this after various calls from the public to do so and now has all of his deputies doing the same. According to their statistics, nearly 98% of cases that come up in court favor with with police officers statement because it is seen on the body camera. Speaking of cameras, there are 130 of them scattered around the jail and for good reason. The jailers can now watch the inmates and make sure they are not causing any harm to themselves or others. They can also listen in to jail cells and know if something is wrong/needs to be done.

Walking through the general population cell was crazy. Literally all that separated us was a yellow line on the floor. All of the inmates just stared at us and would lightly walk around us when they had to do so. Asking for permission to do everything, like getting a cup of water, was very common. Permission and discipline is a very strategic way to keep order in their jail and that is why they do it each and every day. Overall, it was a very cool experience and I will never forget it!

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